New Jersey's largest state worker union on Thursday filed a claim of unfair labor practices against Gov. Chris Christie's administration, saying the administration has so far refused to negotiate health care costs.
The Communications Workers of America filed the complaint with the state Public Employee Retirement Commission late Thursday. Union leader Hetty Rosenstein said the union has met six times with the governor's staff, but the administration won't respond to CWA's proposal on health care benefits.
The Republican governor has made a national name for his fights with union leaders, especially teachers. He has said he wants state workers to pay a greater share of their health care costs and wants to achieve those changes through legislation rather than collective bargaining, while at the same time insisting he "loves collective bargaining."
"When is Governor I-love-collective-bargaining going to negotiate?" Rosenstein said. Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts said negotiations are still in the early stages and are ongoing.
"This is just another episode of the same public relations circus that CWA and Hetty Rosenstein have continued to engage in," Roberts said. "One can only conclude that they are frustrated with having to negotiate with an administration that is finally standing up for taxpayers for once. So, they respond with these types of ridiculous, baseless antics."
Christie and Democratic state Senate President Stephen Sweeney have each proposed plans to reform health care but are looking to do it through legislation.
Under Christie's proposal, current workers would pay 10 percent of their health care premiums beginning in July; 17 percent in January; 23 percent in January 2013; and 30 percent by July 2014.
New hires would pay 30 percent toward their premiums immediately. The plan also calls for increasing co-pays and giving workers more health plans from which to choose, but those details have not yet been laid out.
The administration estimates a savings of $871 million by 2014 — a figure Democrats have questioned.
Sweeney's has also offered a phase-in plan, one that more closely ties salaries to the level of contribution. His plan has a sliding scale of 12 percent to 30 percent of the cost of the premium, based on income and phased in over seven years.
Within seven years, top-tier workers making over $100,000 would also contribute 30 percent of the cost of their premiums while those making $30,000 or less would only pay 12 percent of their premium. That plan would save an estimated $206 million when fully implemented.
The CWA is pushing to reform benefits through collective bargaining rather than legislation and has also put forward a plan. It would have workers continue to pay 1.5 percent of their salary and 8.5 percent of their premium by the fourth and final year of a new contract. It says that would save the state more than $200 million.